If you were surprised to see San Diego Chargers' running back Jackie Battle start over Ryan Mathews, you're not alone. Here's what Battle had to say about it: "I had no idea I was going to get that much work," Battle said. "They kept sending me back out and calling my number, so I figured I was doing something right. After a while I figured that the game was going to keep going and I would get some carries against my old team."
If you paid attention to head coach Norv Turner's comments following Mathews' red zone fumble in Week 3, you knew that Mathews wasn't going to get the goal line looks in Week 4.
Turner said Mathews' carries would be limited in certain situations and that's exactly what the Bolts did.
Yes, Jackie Battle scored two touchdowns. But be careful about reading too much into this situation and/or over-valuing this guy. Battle rushed for 39 yards on 15 carries, a putrid 2.6 yards per carry average. And while he did notch 42 yards on 4 receptions, Battle was merely a pawn in the Turner vs. Mathews chess match.
Despite the post-game coach-speak, Turner sent Mathews a message by benching him and allowing Battle to start.
The real question in San Diego is whether or not Mathews retains the goal line duties. Sure, Turner has said that he still has trust in Mathews, but never trust what coaches say—it means nothing. If Battle is still getting goal line looks in Week 5, then Mathews has been demoted on a real level. If not, Mathews' one-week downgrade was a slap on the hand and all will be forgiven if Mathews doesn't cough up another fumble.
Mathews' Week 3 fumble was his 11th in 27 career games with the Chargers. And while Turner is saying all the right things to appear in Mathews' corner, GM A.J. Smith is not.
"It has to stop," Smith said succinctly about Mathews' fumbling problem. "I believe you can improve in ball security. And no one works any harder in trying to get better than Ryan. However, if it continues he will play less," said Smith.
Smith didn't stop there. Smith actually outlined Mathews' exit plan if the fumbling continues. "What happens to fumblers is, first, they play less. Second, if it continues while they're playing on a limited basis, then you don't play for a while and you get to sit and think about it. Third, when you get the call to go back on the field and the fumbling continues, then you will be somebody else's fumbler."
It looks like Mathews is on stage one of Smith's exit plan. He played less in Week 4. It sounds as though Mathews will get his job back—goal line work included—for Week 5. But if he fumbles again, well, Smith already told you what to expect.
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